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Irma Simonton Black

Author and educator Irma Simonton Black was born on June 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey. She received an A.B. from Barnard College in 1927, majoring in English and mathematics. Following college, she studied at the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE) and New York University. She began teaching at the Harriet Johnson Nursery School of the BEE in 1931. She also worked in the Research Division and as a faculty member teaching children’s literature.

The BEE was renamed Bank Street College of Education in 1950, and Black became the head of the Division of Publications and Communications, a position she would hold for the rest of her life. She participated in the Writers Laboratory, conducted by Bank Street founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell, and later became its head. The Writers Lab was home to many well-respected children’s book authors and illustrators.

Black was the author of more than twenty children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, and wrote three non-fiction books for adults. She and Lucy Sprague Mitchell were also the editors of Believe and Make-Believe, stories by Bank Street writers.

She married attorney James Hammond Black in 1934, and the couple had a daughter, Constance Kirkland Black. Constance Black married Earl E. Engle and they have two sons, James Simonton Engle, an artist, and Douglas Harrison Engle, a professional photographer.

Following Black’s untimely death in 1972, Bank Street College of Education established the annual Irma Simonton Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature with the encouragement and support of her family. The Award was presented in Irma’s name only until 1992, when it was renamed the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature in recognition of his ardent support of the Award.

Many thanks to Constance Black Engle for her contributions to this biography.